Caroline Gardner’s Gift of Land to the Puget Sound Washington Agrarian Commons

Imagine a beautiful small farm, located on an island just across the water from a large city in the Pacific Northwest. On this island, a vibrant agricultural community has emerged over the years, with a committed and talented community of small farmers producing an abundance of diverse foods for people in the region’s foodshed. As the city continues to grow with the global tech economy, more people wish to live on the island, the market value of land becomes further disconnected from agriculture affordability, and farmland is sold based on nonfarm uses. Would this small farm be next? 

What if a different future was ensured for this small farm? What if this farm could serve as a model for community-centered ownership of farmland, ensuring that the island, and the region, benefitted from a land legacy of agriculture connected to the community? What if that small farm could catalyze a land legacy movement to meet those needs in communities across the United States? 

When the owner of that small farm, Caroline Gardner, first heard about Agrarian Trust and its mission to ensure land access for next generation farmers, she began to think about a different future for her land that would keep it in agricultural production for the community. She was inspired by the words of Director, Ian McSweeney, and Founder, Severine von Tscharner Fleming. Ms. Gardner contacted Mr. McSweeney and offered her land to seed a local Agrarian Commons.

That conversation resulted in a different future for the small island farm on South Whidbey Island, Washington. Mr. McSweeney engaged Washington legal counsel, Konrad Liegel, a Seattle attorney experienced in land conservation, ownership, and trust structures. In December 2019, Caroline Gardner gifted the title for her 10-acre farm to Agrarian Trust. Agrarian Trust proudly, gratefully, and humbly accepted the incredibly generous donation and in return Agrarian Trust acknowledged the gift through a recurring rental payment to Real Rent Duwamish.  In addition, Agrarian Trust continues to steward the land with soil improvements, orchard development and habitat improvements as the land awaits a new steward.

This farm, located just a little over an hour’s drive north of Seattle, includes prime farmland soils that have supported a lavender farm and hay production. As a result of this gift, several significant milestones have been reached:

  • The Gardner farm acquisition forms the basis of the Puget Sound Washington Agrarian Commons, which Agrarian Trust is developing with a wide range of partner organizations, landowners, and farmers who share a similar vision.

  • As the first land gifted to Agrarian Trust, the Gardner donation launches the Agrarian Commons movement across the United States. At least 10 different Agrarian Commons are currently in formation in various parts of the country. Each of these will include a community-owned and governed network of farms acquired for the purpose of providing long-term, affordable, secure access for next generation farmers to produce healthy foods for the region in an ecologically sound manner.

  • The transition of this small farm allows for the formation of a new vision for stewardship of the land as a secure and supportive location for next generation farmers to launch their farm-based businesses, and a place to demonstrate agroecology practices that protect and restore native ecosystems in the Puget Sound ecoregion. 

Inspiring Land Gifts to the Agrarian Commons 

Over time, as Agrarian Trust oversees the formation and management of Agrarian Commons in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West Coast, we will continue to look to Caroline Gardner’s visionary land gift for inspiration. She understands that her legacy of land is the ultimate gift – supporting a living community of people, plants, and animals that will thrive in harmony as a commons in which agroecology guides all stewardship decisions. We believe there are landowners like Caroline Gardner in communities across the country, who understand that the land is not truly theirs, but an inheritance from our ancestors to be held in trust for our descendants. We are excited to share this inspiring story of our first land gift with landowners who may feel the same way about their land as Ms. Gardner did hers. 

Thinking About Gifting Your Land? Read How a Land Gift Works.

The Land Gift that Started an Agrarian Commons Movement

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